Dancer Maureen Fleming was born on an American Navy base in Japan where her father was a lieutenant commander, but she has plenty of history in St. Paul. Her grandmother immigrated to St. Paul from Ireland in 1910 and her uncle was a local monsignor -- Father Francis Fleming of St. Olaf Church.
From mid-elementary school through college, Fleming went to Minnesota schools such as Our Lady of Peace High School in St. Paul and the now-defunct College of St. Teresa in Winona.
Fleming lives and works in New York where she puts on workshops at New York University and is a guest artist at the Juilliard School. The regional premiere of her new piece, "B Madonna," which Fleming calls "the best of her work," is Saturday at the O'Shaughnessy at St.
Her dancing almost ended before it began. When Fleming was 2 years old, she was in a car accident that caused her to lose the disc between her fourth and fifth vertebrae. It could have paralyzed her, but it inspired her to begin dancing -- twisting and untwisting her joints to increase blood flow and flexibility.
Fleming hopes "B Madonna" is as much a spiritual journey for the audience as it is for her. The choreography focuses on aligning the body's spiritual center through a series of drawn-out movements and three-dimensional video projects designed by Christopher Odo, one of Fleming's longtime collaborators.
"I'm performing one image and the same image is reflected in front and behind me," she said.
Her work with performing images is heavily influenced by her formative years spent in Japan, specifically by "Butoh," a contemplative Japanese dance developed in postwar Japan. "(Butoh) begins with an image. Instead of lifting your arm, you would imagine that a smoke ring moves up your spine and off your arm," she said. "Each movement is connected to an image. That's how I create.""You get a sense of things happening simultaneously. It becomes like a visual theater."
Butoh is more improvisational, however, while Fleming's work revolves around making choices and then assembling them to create a theme. "I record a lot of my improvisations on video and then choose moments that look like two things are happening at the same time," she said. "For example, a moment that looks like I'm being born and dying, or a moment that looks painful and pleasant."
"B Madonna" is part of the O'Shaughnessy's 19th annual Women of Substance series, which Fleming says has always interested her.
"I like the value of the Women of Substance series that you see things from different perspectives," she said. The performance also has a companion gallery exhibition called "O Black Maddona" at Wisdom Ways Center for Spirituality, 1890 Randolph Ave.
Fleming's performance will feature text by David Henry Hwang and music by Philip Glass performed live by pianist Bruce Brubaker, accordionist Guy Klucevsek and Taiko drummer Kaoru Watanabe.
IF YOU GO
What: "B Madonna," a performance by Maureen Fleming
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: The O'Shaughnessy, 2004 Randolph Ave., St. Paul.